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$1,000 a month with no strings attached: Guaranteed basic income could be coming to L.A.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti holds his annual State of the City address from the Griffith Observatory on Monday.
(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles is poised to become the latest city to try universal basic income.

Mayor Eric Garcetti included a $24-million Basic Income Guaranteed program in his city budget to be released Tuesday. L.A. would become the biggest city to try the concept, possibly joining Stockton, Compton and others.

Here is a primer:

What would the L.A. program do?

If approved by the Los Angeles City Council, the program would provide $1,000 a month to 2,000 Los Angeles families for a year. There will be no obligation on how to spend the money, according to the mayor’s office.

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“When you give money to people who are poor, it creates better outcomes,” the mayor said. “It covers child care. It puts food on the table. It leads to more high school graduations and better checkups.”

Already, the Los Angeles City Council has unveiled plans to spend more than $11 million in funds diverted from the Los Angeles Police Department budget on such programs in South L.A. and the San Fernando Valley.

In the South L.A. district represented by Councilman Curren Price, a program will provide $1,000 per month for a year to 500 households headed by single parents. It’s expected to launch this summer.

Additional programs are being floated in the districts represented by Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson, Council President Nury Martinez and Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas.

A Garcetti spokesman said the $24-million allocation for a citywide program would be in addition to those proposed efforts.

Mayor Eric Garcetti’s $24-million Basic Income Guaranteed program, which will be included in his city budget to be released Tuesday, would provide $1,000 a month to 2,000 Los Angeles families for a year.

What has been the reaction?

The proposal drew praise from Michael Tubbs, the former mayor of Stockton, who championed a guaranteed basic income program in his own city. Tubbs said Garcetti is giving a major boost to the movement, which is built around the idea that “we don’t have to have poverty in this country.”

“The world cares about what L.A. does,” Tubbs said. “To have the mayor of the second-largest city come out so boldly is significant.”

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Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn., offered a more critical take, saying programs that “give away free money” will simply give L.A.’s elected officials a new way to buy votes when they run for reelection.

“When you can rob Peter to pay Paul, you can always count on the vote of Paul,” he said.

Where else is this being tried?

Stockton was the first major city to try it, led by Tubbs.

Young, sincere and raised on the edge of poverty, Sukhi Samra has a mother who worked two minimum-wage jobs when she was a kid — days at a gas station and nights at a Subway.

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In a social experiment that is as much public relations as rigorous research, that program began with 130 residents getting $500 every month, with no strings — such as employment or sobriety requirements — attached.

Times columnist Michael Hiltzik reported that early research showed positive signs in the Stockton experiment:

A preliminary analysis of the first year of the program, through February 2020, found that recipients were “healthier, showing less depression and anxiety and enhanced well-being” than those in a control group not receiving the stipends. They also experienced less month-to-month fluctuations in household income. Most notably, they had greater success finding full-time work or upgrading their employment.

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The city of Compton launched the Compton Pledge, which will pay $300 to $600 a month to 800 Compton residents for two years.

As of April, the group said it has enrolled the 800 families, saying that makes it the biggest program of its kind in the nation. The goal is to distribute more than $9 million over the next three years.

“There can be no peace without understanding identity, operating in purpose, and the inalienable right of human dignity. I want residents to be empowered by the greatness from where they came,” said Aja Brown, Mayor of Compton, in a statement earlier this month.

The program is sponsored by the Fund for Guaranteed Income, a charity headed by Nika Soon-Shiong, daughter of Los Angeles Times owner Patrick Soon-Shiong and a co-director of the Compton Pledge.

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Pilot programs have also been launched in St. Paul, Minn.; Richmond, Va.; Pittsburgh; and Oakland, among other communities.


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